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April 2006   

Interview: Head On
John Buchanan has been warning that WorkChoices would be a car crash. Now he surveys the damage.

Unions: Do You Have a Moment?
CFMEU Mining national secretary Tony Maher lets fly at the new industrial laws.

Industrial: Vital Signs
In his new book, Craig Emerson argues that destroying unionism will not be in Australia's long term interests.

Economics: Taxing Times
Frank Stilwell argues that there are progressive alternatives to the slash and burn approach to tax reform.

Environment: It Ainít Necessarily So
Don't let anyone tell you that jobs and the environment are opposities, argues Neale Towart.

History: Melbourneís Hours
Neale Towart reluctantly pays homage to Victoria's celebration of the eight hour day.

Immigration: Opening the Floodgates
John Howard is deciding more and more foreign workers should come into this country - without the rights of citizenship, writes John Sutton,

Review: Pollie Fiction
For someone barely 25 years Sarah Doyle has an enviable track record in theatre behind her.

Poetry: The Cabal
Poetry returns to Workers Online with this rollicking ode to employer power.


Democracy in Action
Former NSW Premier Neville Wran's speech to commemorate 150 years of responsible government.

The Westie Wing
There has been activity aplenty in the NSW Parliament this month, reports Ian West.

The Soapbox
From Chaver to Cobber
John Robertson, Unions NSW Secretary, hosting Passover at Sydney Trades Hall discovers the first comrades followed a bloke called Moses.

Postcard from New Orleans
Mark Brenner surveys the long-term impact of Hurricane Katrina on the regions workers.

The Locker Room
My Country Right Or In Lane Five
Phil Doyle observes the golden shower at the recent Commonwealth Games, and asks what it means for the last great unpredictable drama.

Vale Bill Hartley
Unlike some of his comrades, Bill Hartley never departed from his position as a radical nor did he die rich in assets, writes Bob Scates.


The Cowra Clause
The plight of the Cowra meatworkers is a fitting illustration of the way the new industrial laws will fundamentally shift the balance of relations in the Australian workplace.


 Abattoir Boss Slaughters Andrews

 More Slaughter in South Australia

 Pickets Won't Face Cannon

 Teens Win Thousands

 Praise the Laws

 Where The Bloody Hell Is Our Contract?

 Building Crusade Raids Pockets

 Workers Shows Its Hand

 It's All Yellow, Mine Barons

 Lismore Nine Breaks Ranks

 Uber Bosses Clean Up

 Howard's Skills Solution: Sack Apprentices

 Spineless Companies Block Safety

 Boxall in Sickie Backflip

 Activist's What's On!

 Crap TV
 Social Action
 French revolution
 Fan Mail
 Belly Spreads The Word
 All Out!
 Lying Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them
 Help Wanted
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Democracy in Action

Former NSW Premier Neville Wran's speech to commemorate 150 years of responsible government.


On behalf of the people and Parliament of New South Wales, we record our deep appreciation of the magnificent work of the Committee for the Sesquicentenary of Responsible Government 1856-2006 and everybody involved in the production of these splendid publications: Decision and Deliberation - The Parliament of New South Wales 1856-2003; and The Premiers of New South Wales, Volume One 1856-1901 and Volume Two 1901-2005.

Mr Speaker, Mr President, Mr Premier, my fellow has-beens, former colleagues, Ministers and honourable Members, distinguished authors, friends all.

The redoubtable Rodney Cavalier, Chairman of the Committee, has reminded me that this is where it all began.

In a double sense.

If there is any place on earth entitled to be called the birthplace of Australian democracy, this is it, this room.

But more specifically today, I am reminded that the entire Sesquicentenary Project originated here five years ago.

It happened when Premier Carr launched The People's Choice -- the consolidated three-volume account of every New South Wales State election since federation.

Professor Michael Hogan was co-editor with Dr David Clune of that monumental and indispensable work.

On that occasion, Dr Hogan issued a challenge. He pointed to the pivotal role New South Wales had played in the struggle for colonial self-government, and the crying need for new studies of the development of parliamentary democracy in Australia.

And, of course, as Dr Hogan said, the 150th anniversary of Australia's first Parliament - the Legislative Assembly - in May 2006 would give such a project a special focus and impetus.

Bob Carr, with his great sense of history, responded immediately, by appointing Mr Cavalier to head this distinguished group of historians, under the title - shall I say, the rather daunting and uncompromising title of "The Sesquicentenary of Responsible Government in New South Wales 1856-2006 Committee.

Let me say at once:

The Cavalier Committee has discharged Premier Carr's trust beyond all expectations.

It has published, commissioned, sponsored or otherwise assisted more than 20 projects examining key aspects of the history of parliamentary democracy, administration and governance in New South Wales.

It has done it, if I may use the current jargon, on-time and under budget - not least because so much of the work, including the writing, has been done for free.

And a great deal of it by Members of the Committee themselves.

The end result will be, I believe, a rich store of knowledge and understanding of the history and practice of parliamentary democracy, which, for its range and quality of scholarship, will be without equal in Australia, and I am prepared to bet, unsurpassed in any Federal system in the world.

Today's books form the core of the project.

It would be invidious for me to particularise authors and chapters, especially in the case of the post-Federation Premiers. But it would be impossible to do justice to this achievement without paying special tribute to David Clune of the Parliamentary Library.

He co-edited the two volumes on the Premiers with the dean of Labor historians, Ken Turner.

I was going to say, about Ken Turner, that he is the Professor Emeritus of Australian Labor history.

Until I remembered what Rupert Murdoch is supposed to have said, when he sacked one of his editors of the London Times.

And Murdoch told this bloke:

"I am making you Editor Emeritus. 'E' means you're out and 'meritus' means you deserve it."

I am delighted to say, as a fellow septuagenarian, Ken Turner is definitely not out.

As Rodney Cavalier writes in his excellent preface:

"Ken Turner taught two generations of students at the University of Sydney. He was the teacher or colleague of all but one of the Members of the Sesquicentenary Committee."

And we can see here today, in the volumes before us, how much Ken's grasp of our history permeates the whole project.

In the monumental history of the Parliament, David Clune has been equally fortunate in his co-author Gareth Griffith.

I thought it would be almost impossible for a history covering the 53 Parliaments of the past 150 years to live up to Mr Cavalier's Foreword to the book.

But it does. It surpasses it.

As Rodney Cavalier writes:

Throughout their study, the authors penetrate the character of an institution which is no more than the Members elected to its ranks from time to time, and yet so much more than that ..... New South Wales remained a vigorous parliamentary democracy. This volume tells the story of how a legislative and deliberative institution handled the demands of change over almost 150 years. There is not another book like it.

And that's no more than the truth.

Part of the reason has to be, of course, that there is no other Parliament quite like the Parliament of New South Wales.

I used to tell the journalists in the Press Gallery that there was nothing new about our "bear-pit" image.

I tried to persuade them that our typical robust exchanges were just part of the living tradition of this place.

I don't think I convinced them. They might have thought it was just special pleading on my part.

But when I read these pages and the incidents of earlier Parliaments, Mr Speaker, I stand amazed at my own moderation.

But the most important thing about this book is the great story it tells.

It is the story of how this Parliament developed an authentically Australian form of parliamentary democracy.

It is a mistake to think we inherited a fully-fledged parliamentary system from Britain, much less a democracy.

The imperial government in London at long last conceded self-government in 1852 and invited the partly - elected Legislative Councils of Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and New South Wales, to draw up Constitutions based on the principle of responsible government. This is the principle that the executive government should be answerable and accountable to Parliament, and that Ministers had to have the support of the elected majority in the Lower House, in our case, the Legislative Assembly.

Apart from these basic principles, the men who framed the New South Wales Constitution were largely thrown on their own resources of improvisation to make the thing work.

It has to be remembered that in the early 1850s, the parliamentary and cabinet systems were still taking shape, even at Westminster.

After all, less than 20 years before, in 1834, King William IV had sacked a government having a secure majority in the Lower House, the House of Commons.

Of course, nobody thought that could even happen again, in Parliaments like ours.

Until 1932 here, and 1975 in Canberra.

It was merely coincidental, of course, that they both happened to be Labor governments.

The one thing the constitution-makers in Sydney in the 1850s were certain about: they were not creating a democracy.

As the chief architect, William Charles Wentworth said when he sent his draft constitution to London:

"We have no wish to sow the seeds of a future democracy."

That is why Wentworth wanted to make Members of the Legislative Council hereditary - the "bunyip aristocracy".

Think of all those dukes of Dubbo and earls of Woolloomooloo we missed out on!

For all his great services to New South Wales, Wentworth, by this time, was mainly concerned to entrench the squattocracy.

In the face of public protest and ridicule, he backed away and settled for a nominated Council, as it was to remain, in one form or another, until the referendum of 1978.

And, in 1856, there was to be none of this democratic nonsense about equal representation, one vote one value, one man one vote, much less one woman one vote.

There was a marvellous debate in this chamber, then the Legislative Council on the Constitution Bill in August 1853. Wentworth said:

"I see no reason why the city of Sydney has any right or claim to be represented at all, except that there is a large mass of people congregated together in it..... There is really nothing to represent here except a large mass of labour."

The voice of conservatives down through the ages!

So our first Constitution was a deeply conservative document.

And yet, by 1858, only two years into self-government, New South Wales had adult male franchise, thirty years before Britain, and possibly the widest franchise of the time in the world.

And we had the secret ballot -bitterly resisted by conservatives as "unmanly" and "unBritish". That's why the secret ballot was known overseas as the Australian ballot.

Women had to wait for the vote until 1904.

And one-vote one-value had to wait even longer.

Until 1981 in fact.

It still hasn't been fully achieved in Western Australia, despite the fact that Gough Whitlam has spent the last 30 years of his life fighting for it.

And this really brings me to the point I want to make today - the lesson we can draw from these books.

Democracy is still a work in progress.

When we of the West talk about building democracy and spreading democracy and even fighting wars for democracy, we ought to have the grace to realise our own shortcomings and our own hypocrisies.

We talk as if these values -

democratically elected assemblies, equal representation, the sanctity of the ballot, the secular state, freedom of religion, including freedom from religion, as a political test, the equal status of women, the right of organised labour, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, the presumption of innocence, a citizen's right to privacy, the criminality of state torture, the sovereignty of peoples and nations under international law -

We talk as if these things were all self-evident truths and inalienable rights which we uphold as universal, immutable and immortal.

We talk about them as if we guaranteed them in our own societies.

In all our arrogance, we talk about these values as if they were so much part of the natural order of things from time immemorial, that we have a divine right to impose them on the rest of the world, even if it means war.

Yet there is not one of these values - not one - which has not been under challenge, in our own societies - in the life-time of every one of us in this room.

Why, Mr Speaker, what are we to make of the very principle of responsible government itself - the accountability of Ministers - in the wake of the Cole Inquiry?

Or what are we to make of the massive attack now being made on everything we were entitled to believe from 120 years of decisions made in this Parliament, about one of the most fundamental democratic rights of all - the rights of workers to organise?

To read these books is to realise how fragile and vulnerable, how hard and recently-won, are those concepts which we now demand, in all our arrogance and hypocrisy, shall be accepted by the rest of the world without question.

We ought, at least, to have a decent humility about these things.

We did, in fact, fight a great war to make the world "safe for democracy", as we were told.

This was 1914 to 1918.

In less than two decades, the democracy we were supposed to have established in Europe - in the very heartland of Western civilisation - had been destroyed - in Italy, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Poland, Yugoslavia, Austria and above all, Germany.

I'd like to think that these books will be read beyond New South Wales, and, indeed, beyond Australia - now more than ever.

Of course, this is not the first time I have promoted books on New South Wales for reading overseas.

I recall that when Prince Charles married Diana in 1981, we sent a crateful of books about Australia's oldest and greatest State to Kensington Palace as their wedding present.

One of the Sydney cartoonists drew the happy couple in bed - presumably on their honeymoon, with Charles saying to an impatient Diana:

"I won't be long, darling, but I must finish this exciting book about New South Wales."

Now, I'm not suggesting that Premier Iemma should send these books post-haste to President Bush.

But I do say, seriously, that anybody who thinks that there is anything simple or easy, natural or inevitable, about democracy, even in a country like ours with all its traditions and heritage, will learn a lot to the contrary from a study of these books.

There is a great sub-theme running through these three volumes.

It is the fundamental role of the great political parties.

As long ago as 1848, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Grey, gave this definition of responsible government.

Earl Grey said:

"Responsible government means government by parties."

It is the best definition of responsible government ever made.

The simple fact is that there can be no responsible government; there can be no effective parliamentary democracy, unless there are strong political parties.

And it means having one party or a cohesive coalition of parties which can form an effective government, and another party or cohesive coalition of parties which can form an effective opposition, ready to take the reins of government if elected.

In the end, democracy is about strong and effective parties.

How we achieved this in New South Wales is the story of these books in a nutshell.

And, of course, at the very heart of the story, is the essential and fundamental role of the Australian Labor Party.

Just three years ago, at the beginning of the war against Iraq the great American writer, Norman Mailer, another septuagenarian, wrote in his pamphlet, "Why Are We at War?" these prophetic words:

"Democracy is never there, in us, to create in another country, by the force of our will. Real democracy comes out of many subtle individual human battles that are fought over decades and finally over centuries. You can't play with it. You can't assume we're going over there to show them what a great system we have. This is monstrous arrogance."

And Norman Mailer wrote, just three years ago:

"Democracy is a state of grace attained only by those countries that have a host of individuals not only ready to enjoy freedom, but to undergo the heavy labour to maintain it."

That captures the message of these books and the true meaning of the important events which we will celebrate in May, the meeting of the first elected Legislative Assembly of New South Wales on 22 May 1856.

Most of us in the room did try, according to our lights to undergo the heavy labour of maintaining our democracy.

And these books are our story, for good or ill. We have been treated very generously, some may think better than we deserve.

But these books are also the story of the countless thousands of Australian men and women who supported us, through the great political parties we represent.

And, ultimately, it is the story of the millions of the people of New South Wales, the electors, who, I believe, whatever they may think about us as individual politicians, still put their trust and hopes for the future of their State and nation in the system of parliamentary democracy, established in New South Wales, in this place, 150 years ago.


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